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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

Moments ‘til Madness: Is there a No. 1 team in college basketball?

Searching for the clear-cut best squad in the sport.

"Moments 'Til Madness " Column Graphic
Graphic by Gretta Goorno

Five weeks into the season, we’ve had three different teams at the top of the AP poll. The University of Kansas held its own for three weeks but lost handily to Marquette University in the Maui Invitational. Purdue University held the No. 1 spot for one week, losing to an unranked Northwestern University team on Dec. 1. Now, the University of Arizona sits atop the rankings. While it has only been about a month and teams are still working out their kinks, there have been no signs of a single dominant squad in the sport.

In years past, we’ve seen teams hold the No. 1 spot for almost the whole season following preseason rankings. Last year, it was Purdue, who would eventually fall in the first round of the tournament to Fairleigh Dickinson. In 2021, two teams, Baylor and Gonzaga, fought for the top rank all season and eventually met in the title game. Before COVID-19, in 2018, Villanova University held the No. 1 title for the majority of the season and would go on to win every game in the tournament by double digits.

Some still believe that Kansas could be the best team. Just last week, Kansas beat a quality University of Connecticut team in a Big East–Big 12 Battle game. Kansas has beaten the University of Kentucky and the University of Tennessee. Its one loss to Marquette wasn’t a bad one, but Marquette did later lose to the University of Wisconsin, who were unranked at the time.

Purdue also has some great wins that could back up an argument for it being the best squad in college hoops. Hoisting the trophy in the Maui Invitational, Purdue put together three straight victories against teams ranked in the top 12. Purdue’s disastrous performance against Northwestern could just be a fluke, as it was its first Big Ten game of the season. However, I’m still hesitant to trust this team because of its terrible loss to Fairleigh Dickinson in last year’s first round of the tournament.

With all that being said, No. 1 Arizona is still undefeated. Maybe it could be the dominant team in the sport. But I have some doubts. Arizona’s only signature wins to this date are very questionable. One was against Duke University, who was ranked No. 2 at the time but has since dropped games to two unranked teams, one of them being Georgia Tech. Arizona’s other ranked win was against Michigan State, a team that quickly dropped out of the AP poll after four losses in its first eight games. Luckily, the Wildcats will be heavily tested in their next four games, facing off against No. 23 Wisconsin, No. 4 Purdue, the University of Alabama and No. 11 Florida Atlantic University. After this stretch, it should be quite clear if Arizona is the top team in college basketball.

It’s also important to note that No. 6 Baylor University also remains undefeated. Baylor has been one of the better teams of the decade so far, with a great coach in Scott Drew. With that, though, the Bears’ schedule has been relatively weak compared to other schools in the top 10. Having not faced off against any ranked teams yet, we haven’t seen if the Bears really have what it takes to dominate college basketball. Baylor does have a game coming up against Duke, but will have to show if it has what it takes in conference play.

As of now, it’s hard to think that there will be a team that graces the No. 1 spot for longer than a few weeks. You could blame the transfer portal for this, with talent being more spread out across the nation. It could also just be that all of these teams are high quality and will continue to lose close battles against each other. Either way, it should make for a great season of college hoops.